With all but one starter back on the Bill Edwards Stadium diamond, fourth-year Hofstra softball head coach Larissa Anderson has high hopes for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015.
Anderson set up a grueling start to the 2018 schedule featuring five teams that reached the NCAA Regional last year, and so far the Pride has shined under the bright lights. Hofstra ventured to Florida for three tournaments and entered mid-March at 10-7 highlighted by a 1-0 extra innings upset at Florida State on March 2. The Pride also led sixth-ranked Oregon late before falling 2-1 in extra innings the following day.
“Our pitching and defense have been outstanding especially with the competitive schedule,” said Anderson, who took over the Hofstra softball program from former legendary head coach Bill Edwards. “We want to play the most competitive schedule we can.”
Sophomore ace pitcher Sarah Cornell has progressed from a solid freshman campaign into a more elite hurler. The Clarke High School graduate tossed 14 strikeouts in a 4-0 win against East Carolina on Feb. 10 and threw a one-hitter versus Kennesaw State. Anderson said the Westbury native has greatly improved her control this season.
“She gained so much experience last year,” said Anderson of Cornell, who earned National Fastpitch Coaches Association High School accolades at Clarke. “She has gotten 100 percent better.”
Freshman Sophie Dandola adds a strong second starter in the circle this spring after a standout career at Seaford High School. Dandola, who earned Premier Girls Fastpitch All-American honors as a senior at Seaford, is off to a strong start to her collegiate journey with a pair of CAA Rookie of the Week awards. The Seaford native has induced an average of 13 groundballs a game, which Anderson said works well given the strong Hofstra defense behind her.
“I’m very impressed with how she has stepped up early,” said Anderson of Dandola, who tossed a complete game in a 2-1 win against previously unbeaten Florida Gulf Coast on March 2. “She is doing amazing.”
Hofstra boasts plenty of experienced hitters that can generate run support for Cornell and Dandola. Senior right fielder Brielle Pietrafesa and sophomore shortstop Kristin Hallam both earned second-team All-CAA accolades after strong years at the plate Hallam led the team with a .378 batting average while Pietrafesa hit .290 with six home runs.
Senior catcher Brittany Allocca is another power threat with Pietrafesa who is looking to build on a junior campaign that featured nine home runs. Red-shirt senior Michaela Transue gives the lineup additional punch with a return to the diamond after missing all of last year with an injury suffered in the 2016 season in which she slugged eight home runs. Senior Sarah Edwards has also joined the offensive fireworks with two early season long balls with Georgia Southern transfer Lydia Witkowski also capable of going deep.
“The potential of this lineup is scary,” Anderson said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Pietrafesa, Allocca, Transue and Edwards are part of an experienced lineup that features seven seniors. Anderson is also hoping for big springs from seniors Nikki Michalowski, Megan Patierno, Kristin Hallam and Kaitlyne Musa.
“Nothing takes the place of experience,” said Anderson of her veteran hitters. “They know what to expect.”
Hofstra opens its CAA schedule with a doubleheader against UNC-Wilmington on Saturday March 24 starting at 2 p.m. The Pride were picked to finish second behind two-time defending CAA champion James Madison, who defeated Hofstra in last year’s conference final. Anderson, who led Hofstra to a CAA title during her first season as head coach in 2015, said the league is wide open and the Pride missing out on qualifying for the five-year 2016 CAA tournament was a wake-up call of how much the conference has improved.
“We know that every time we go out on the field we are going to get the other team’s A game,” said Anderson, who as an assistant coach under Edwards led Hofstra to 10 CAA titles. ”We have to play hard every game.”